When Thomas Christiansen was announced as the new manager of Leeds United, he was an unknown quantity to say the least. The former Bundesliga top scorer and Apoel manager could not have sat atop of many Leeds supporters’ list of choices for new manager. Almost a month into the new season, though, he and many of his relatively unknown signings are providing plenty of quality at the Elland Road club.
After new owner Andrea Radrizzani acquired 100% control of the Whites from controversial former owner Massimo Cellino, it was thought the top priority would be to tie down boss Garry Monk to a long-term contract. For reasons not made entirely clear by either party, talks with the former Swansea boss never reached the conclusion many fans had hoped it would. He left the club in May. With the departure of Monk, under whom Leeds had enjoyed their best season since the 2010/11 campaign, it was difficult to envisage which direction the club would be heading in. Radrizzani, seemingly, knew all along.
Following the practically unknown Thomas Christiansen into Elland Road would be a host of summer signings. Many of these signings were also strangers to much of the Leeds United support. With a manager and much of his playing staff having no experience of the division, United fans expecting consolidation, perhaps a mid-table finish, could be forgiven.
After a mixed pre season (arguably the best result being a 1-1 draw with Borussia Monchengladbach) it was time to see what Leeds were really about this campaign. The fixture list pitted United against newly promoted Bolton Wanderers in their opening Championship clash. It was the first opportunity for many of the Leeds United fans to cast their eyes over the summer signings. Any doubts over the new regime were swiftly cast aside when Kalvin Phillips opened the scoring after just 7 minutes. Leeds cruised into a 3-1 lead by half time and, despite Bolton scoring a second half spot kick, were comfortable in victory. The game had showcased some of the quick, attacking play that would become systematic under Thomas Christiansen.
Port Vale, under former Leeds United midfielder Michael Brown, were the first side to visit Elland Road in competitive action this season. Despite Vale taking the lead through another of United’s old boys, Michael Tonge, the free-flowing attacking play seen at Bolton three days earlier was back in full effect. United swept aside the League Two side with ease. A 4-1 victory helped along by the electric Samu Saiz scoring a hat trick. The summer addition already looks to be a superb piece of business, brought in from Spanish side Huesca for a fee believed to be around £3.1m.
Following the impressive Carabao Cup game at home to Port Vale came two goalless draws at Elland Road. Blanks were drawn despite having opportunities to win both matches. The fact the draws came against two of last season’s better performers gave reason enough for not dwelling on the results too much.
The next fixture, however, saw Leeds travel to recently relegated Sunderland, managed by former Leeds boss Simon Grayson. This was seen as arguably the toughest test of the season to date. Recently a Premier League side, the Black Cats had started well. Notching a win and two draws in the league when many thought they would be in big trouble once more. Ahead of the trip the speculation surrounding the future of Leeds’ 30-goal-striker last season, Chris Wood, was rife. There was word of a bid from Premier League club Burnley had been accepted, casting doubt over whether Wood could feature for Leeds at the Stadium of Light. Hours before kick off the news broke that Chris Wood had informed Leeds United of his desire to sit the game out. From the outside looking in this appeared a disaster for Leeds. From the inside, particularly Thomas Christiansen, there was no such feeling. Leeds went on to beat Sunderland 0-2. Samu Saiz, we will hear this name a lot throughout this season, was involved in everything that was positive for the visitors, including getting on the score sheet once again. In his interview following the full-time whistle, Thomas Christiansen was inevitably asked about the future of last seasons top scorer, Chris Wood. His response was telling. “There is no one above Leeds”, Christiansen says, “today was proof again that we are not winning games because of the individual player, but as the team.” The departure of Wood would be confirmed two days later.
An impressive start in the league and cup was set to continue as Leeds were drawn against opposition once more from League Two, South Wales outfit Newport County in the second round of the Carabao Cup. The tie was originally drawn as a home fixture for Newport but the resurfacing of the pitch at Rodney Parade meant they were granted permission to switch the tie to Elland Road. A touch of class from Andrea Radrizzani preceded the fixture when he revealed Leeds would be allowing Newport to keep their percentage of the gate. The second cup game of the season brought the second cup hat trick of the season. This time Kemar Roofe, given the nod up front, would be heading home with the match ball, turning the tie after a poor start from United. Samu Saiz, him again, would not be letting Roofe take all the plaudits, mind. Once again he made sure he got his goal and Ronaldo Vieira wrapped up a 5-1 victory and progress to the 3rd round.
Given the likelihood of Chris Wood not featuring in the cup tie against Newport, should he have still been a Leeds player, there was still a question mark as to how his departure would affect the side in the league. After sweeping aside Sunderland on their own patch without him, another stern test awaited at the home of Nottingham Forest. The Reds had begun the campaign rather impressively under Mark Warburton with 5 victories from a possible 6 in all competitions. However, they were no match for Thomas Christiansen’s men as another comprehensive away performance was delivered. Leeds ran out 0-2 winners after goals from Roofe, enjoying his role as the front man, and the ever impressive Ezgjan Alioski.
After all the talk of how impressive last season had been under Garry Monk, the start to that season, and this, could hardly be more dissimilar. After five league games of the 2016/17 season, Leeds had found themselves sitting rather worryingly in 21st position with only the solitary victory their name. By contrast, this season, after what would more than likely be defined as a tougher start, Leeds United find themselves perched as high as 2nd place, unbeaten in all competitions.
After making 17 summer signings in the window, the majority of them relatively unknown and rookies to the division, this seems a remarkable beginning. The club finally looks to be in good hands, being run the correct way, the fans are enjoying what they are witnessing, and there is truly no doubt that Thomas Christiansen, the unknown quantity, is proving quality at Leeds United.
Read more from Lee Holdsworth on his blog, here.